Summary and Analysis
Chapters 14-16 - Aibileen
Aibileen's voice is becoming more empowered by the book project. When Hilly and Elizabeth ask her, Aibileen tells them that she thinks the desegregation of the schools would be a positive thing. Even though she is beginning to think of a time when more equality might exist, she is terrified that anyone could learn what she, Skeeter, and Minny are up to.
Clashes continue between blacks and whites in Jackson. Medgar Evans, Field Secretary for the NAACP, is attacked and killed outside his home by who is believed to be a member of the Ku Klux Klan. Life magazine features Jackson on its cover, and President Kennedy warns the mayor that change will come whether he is prepared for it or not. The mayor, however, insists that the races will always be separated in Jackson.
At the Country Club one afternoon, Skeeter confronts Hilly about the distance she is been putting between them. Hilly admits that she saw a copy of the Jim Crow laws in Skeeter's bag and that she cannot risk having an integrational friend because her husband is running for local office. Skeeter says that if she were up to something, Hilly would be the first to know.
Aibileen attends a Community Concerns Meeting at her church where people discuss what can be done about the violence against blacks in their community. At the end of the meeting Yule May approaches Aibileen and says she is be interested in helping with the book.
The theme of revenge and punishment is explored in these chapters. Aibileen explains how crossing a white woman can ruin your life. According to her, white women like to keep their hands clean but they don't forgive, and they never forget. They have the power to fire maids, to call the maid's landlord and have them evicted, and to tell the husband's boss to fire him, too. Then when a maid runs out of money, the car is repossessed and something as small as a parking ticket can lead to jail with the right kind of pressure from a white woman. Minny, Aibileen, and the other maids live in fear of the white woman. When blacks step out of line, they are systematically put back in their place, often through the kind of violence that strikes Medgar Evans.
Skeeter is becoming more isolated from her friends because they suspect she is in favor of civil rights. She, too, is punished for her beliefs when her friends refuse to talk to her in public and stop answering her phone calls. At first she is confused and decides to confront Hilly rather than accept the rejection, but as the scene unfolds she sees clearly that her new view of the black maids is incompatible with Hilly's views of segregation. Skeeter realizes she'll have to be more careful in order not to jeopardize the book project and the trust she is developing with Aibileen. Hilly's rejection is what renews Skeeter's motivation to write the book.
Yule May's character becomes important because she is the third maid to volunteer to tell Skeeter and Aibileen her story. Yule May attended college herself but could find work only as a maid. She has higher hopes for her sons, twin boys who will attend Tougaloo College next year if they can find the money.